Voluntary workouts help Missouri football players find rhythm

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 | 9:09 p.m. CDT; updated 3:38 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 20, 2011

COLUMBIA — No pads. No tackling. No coaches.

If there weren’t so many of them, all wearing black and gold gym shorts, it would be hard to tell Tuesday afternoon’s voluntary workout wasn’t just a pickup football game between friends.

2011 Preseason All-Big 12 Football Team

The Big 12 Conference announced its media Preseason All-Big 12 Football Team on Tuesday. Selections were made by "media representatives who cover the conference." Missouri players Michael Egnew, Grant Ressel and Brad Madison were selected.

QB: Landry Jones, Junior, Oklahoma
RB: Bryce Brown, Sophomore, Kansas State
RB: Roy Finch, Sophomore, Oklahoma
RB: Cyrus Gray, Senior, Texas A&M
WR: Ryan Broyles, Senior, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Junior, Oklahoma State
TE: Michael Egnew, Senior, Missouri

OL: Kelechi Osemele, Senior, Iowa State
OL: Levy Adcock, Senior, Oklahoma State
C: Ben Habern, Junior, Oklahoma
OL: Luke Joeckel, Sophomore, Texas A&M
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Senior, Texas Tech
PK: Grant Ressel, Senior, Missouri

KR: Coryell Judie, Senior, Texas A&M

DL: Brad Madison, Junior, Missouri

DL: Frank Alexander, Senior, Oklahoma
DL: Ronnell Lewis, Junior, Oklahoma
DL: Kheeston Randall, Senior, Texas
LB: Jake Knott, Junior, Iowa State
LB: Travis Lewis, Senior, Oklahoma
LB: Keenan Robinson, Senior, Texas
DB: Markelle Martin, Senior, Oklahoma State
DB: Demontre Hurst, Junior, Oklahoma
DB: Blake Gideon, Senior, Texas
DB: Coryell Judie, Senior, Texas A&M
P: Quinn Sharp, Junior, Oklahoma State
PR: Ryan Broyles, Senior, Oklahoma

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According to defensive lineman Jacquies Smith, these 7-on-7 workouts have been taking place Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the summer. They give the older players an opportunity to teach the younger ones about the program, said Smith. But, he said it also gives the players a chance to bond as a team and just have fun.

There was playful trash talk between offense and defense. When a ball sailed past wide receiver Wes Kemp, he turned to the defensive back assigned to keep up with him and told him he had him beat, even if he couldn’t show it.

One player was even discussing current events, or rather wearing them. He had fashioned a homemade Hope Solo jersey out of a white T-shirt and a permanent marker, honoring the U.S. women’s soccer team’s star goalkeeper. The makeshift jersey elicited momentary soccer talk among the players.

Smith said that after workouts the team has been watching the Women's World Cup games in the locker room. Team U.S.A.’s dramatic comebacks gave the Missouri players motivation, Smith said.

The afternoon workout wasn’t completely absent of the usual elements of a structured Big 12 Conference football program. Quarterback James Franklin had a play chart handy, which he said was courtesy of offensive coordinator Dave Yost, and he was shouting out play calls to his teammates during 7-on-7 and later 11-on-11 workouts.

Franklin, a sophomore, will be one of the focal points of Missouri’s upcoming season. He is competing for the starting quarterback job vacated by Blaine Gabbert, who left for the NFL after his junior season in 2010. Franklin was listed first on Missouri's post-spring depth chart, one spot ahead of Gabbert’s younger brother, Tyler. Tyler Gabbert transferred in May, leaving all eyes on Franklin.

While Franklin said he was not relieved that the younger Gabbert decided to leave the Missouri football team, the departure has allowed Franklin to be a little more comfortable in a quarterbacking role, and he seems confident he will emerge as the starter.

“Before, I felt a little weird acting like it was my spot, even though we were still competing for it,” Franklin said. “Since he transferred, I know it’s mine. Since then ... I’ve been a little more of myself to step up and be the leader that the team needs.”

Franklin’s progress will be closely monitored during the rest of the summer and once the season begins. His teammates are already seeing that progress. Wide receiver T.J. Moe said Franklin has familiarized himself with each of the wide receivers' speeds, making him a more effective passer. Franklin hooked up with Moe and tight end Michael Egnew multiple times during the afternoon. They were two of the most prolific pass catchers in the country last season.

They might be playing for a Big 12 program and have their games televised this fall. But Tuesday, it was just a group of guys playing football.

“It’s fun,” Smith said. “We love to go out and play football. That’s what we came here to do.”

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